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Palestinians could be tempted to join al-Qaeda

The overwhelming feeling among the Palestinians is that the world will abandon them in the face of the powerful Israeli occupation machine

Dr. Naser al-Tamimi

Published: Updated:

Israel announced recently it had arrested two Palestinians from East Jerusalem who were planning to carry out attacks for al-Qaeda, including on the U.S. Embassy. Hamas Islamists governing Gaza rejected the Israeli account as “silly fabrications,” saying it was an attempt to justify Israeli military strikes against the Palestinians.

Regardless of the accusations and counter-accusations between Israel and the Palestinians, the situation raises a question here: Is al-Qaeda really exists in Palestine? Many observers who follow the Palestinian situation closely acknowledge the presence of Salafist jihadist groups, and although they probably do not belong to al-Qaeda directly, they hold the same jihadist ideology.

There are many indications in this direction:

Hamas itself previously clashed militarily with one Jihadist group and had been forced in one occasion to storm one of their mosques in the Gaza strip; this is in addition to the killing of the Italian pro-Palestinian activist Vittorio Arrigoni.

Meanwhile, there is well documented evidence that some Palestinian from Gaza, the West Bank and even from the 1948 border areas (although their numbers are not large) are headed to fight in Syria with jihadist groups. Perhaps more importantly, it is difficult to separate what is happening in Egypt, Jordan and Syria from the Palestinian issue.

The overwhelming feeling among the Palestinians is that the world will abandon them in the face of the powerful Israeli occupation machine

Dr. Naser al-Tamimi

The growing influence of Salafist Jihadi groups in Sinai could affect in one way or another the situation in Gaza. Also, the Salafist jihadist groups in Jordan and Syria are getting stronger and eventually will have an impact on the Palestinians in the West Bank.

Cause for concern

The situation of the Palestinians is a cause for concern. The overwhelming feeling among the Palestinians is that the world will abandon them in the face of the powerful Israeli occupation machine. The paradox here is that the current Israeli government is working on two fronts; weaken the “moderate camp” within the ranks of Fatah and Hamas alike. The accelerated pace of building Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories made the negotiating team as “a joke” in the eyes of the majority of Palestinians.

Meanwhile the continuation of the blockade on Gaza strip accumulates the Palestinian anger on a daily basis. To make it worse, this situation is accompanied with the grim prospects for Palestinian youth who are frustrated politically and economically. Thus, it is very obvious that some Palestinians will find the Salafist jihadist ideas very appealing.

In this context, what is the effect of rising influence of Salafi jihadists on the Palestinian situation in general? According to some Palestinians security experts, the Israelis could be developing a new strategy or what they call it “Assad solution.”

Keeping a blind eye

Assad's solution is to keep a blind eye on the work of some jihadist groups, or work to infiltrate them. As a result, the situation could lead to similar case of the Syrian opposition today. Israel is facing Palestinian groups fighting among themselves and infiltrated by “terrorist” groups, consequently there is point for the negotiation and priority should be fighting terrorism.

Perhaps more importantly, the growing strength of the jihadist groups in the region - especially in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and even Jordan - may make al-Qaeda exploit the situation of the Palestinians through a major attack against Israel, thinking it will help spread the ideology of al-Qaeda in most powerful and effective way. To be sure, in light of the faltering peace process, the continuation of the Palestinian division, and lack of attention to the Palestinian cause, everything could be possible.


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Dr Naser al-Tamimi is a UK-based Middle East analyst and author of the book “China-Saudi Arabia Relations, 1990-2012: Marriage of Convenience or Strategic Alliance?” He is an Al Arabiya regular contributor, with a particular interest in energy politics, the political economy of the Gulf, and Middle East-Asia relations. The writer can be reached on Twitter: @nasertamimi

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.